The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris, The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan
Our Gemara relates an unusual story about Ilfa, one of the first generation amoraim in the Land of Israel. Ilfa attached himself to a ship’s mast and announced that if anyone presented him with a teaching that appeared in the baraitot of Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Oshiya, he would show a source from the Mishnah from which this teaching could be understood (i.e. that all of the traditions that appeared in the baraita were included in the Mishnah). Furthermore, he said if he was unable to do so he would throw himself into the sea. The Gemara relates that there were those who took Ilfa up on his challenge, and that he was able to successfully respond to those challenges.
As noted, Ilfa – who is referred to in the Talmud Yerushalmi as Hilfa or Hilfe – lived in Israel during the period of the first generation of amoraim. In his youth, he was among the students who learned with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, after which he and his younger colleague, Rabbi Yochanan, studied together. These were economically difficult times in Israel and the two of them decided to leave their studies and embark on business ventures. As it turned out, Rabbi Yochanan changed his mind and returned to the study hall, while Ilfa left – apparently he left Israel – to try his hand at business.
During Ilfa’s absence, the position of Rosh Yeshiva in the academy in Israel became vacant, and Rabbi Yochanan was chosen to lead it. Upon his return to Israel, there was speculation that Ilfa had been rejected for the post because he was not truly a capable scholar. This brought him to defend his honor with displays of prowess like the one described in the Gemara. The Yerushalmi describes a similar story, where Ilfa stood on the banks of a river and announced that he should be thrown into the river if he did not successfully make his case.
Ilfa’s teachings are found in both the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi. We even find Rabbi Yochanan quoting his teachings.
The ketubah is a central part of the marriage agreement that exists between husband and wife. Thus, any agreement that the couple makes between themselves that does not contradict the Torah should be valid. Nevertheless, there are situations where either spouse may violate the marriage agreement to such an extent that the courts will insist that the marriage be undone. In such cases, it is the individual who is perceived to be at fault who is punished. If the wife is the cause of the breakup, she is divorced and does not receive the ketubah payment; if it is the husband, he is forced to divorce his wife and pay her ketubah. There are three possible things that can lead to such consequences – all of which are discussed in this perek, Perek ha-madir, the seventh chapter of Masechet Ketubot. They are:
- Nedarim – vows
- Inappropriate behavior
- Mumim – physical blemishes
The first Mishnah discusses the case of ha-madir et ishto mi-lehanot lo – a person who takes a vow forbidding his wife from deriving any benefit from him. In such a case, according to the Mishnah, he can arrange for her to be supported for a certain amount of time, but if he cannot undo the vow, he will eventually be forced to divorce her and pay her the ketubah.
There is a disagreement among the rishonim as to how to understand the effects of a vow that keeps a wife from benefiting from her husband. If marital relations are included in that vow, the husband has abrogated one of the basic requirements of marriage!
Rashi and others suggest that even if this was the husband’s intent, that aspect of the vow will not take effect, since the husband cannot deny that basic marital obligation to his wife.
Tosafot argue that the expression “deriving benefit” refers only to monetary obligations and not to sexual ones.
The R”I MiGash suggests that the Mishnah should be understood to be referring to a case where the vow was made before the nisu’in had been completed, and there were not yet any obligations of marital relations.
The Gemara has been discussing vows made by the husband that are so damaging to the marriage that the couple will be required to divorce. As we learned on yesterday’s daf, in cases where the divorce stems from the husband’s vows, he will be required to divorce her and to pay the ketubah. In our Gemara a different case is discussed, where it is the wife who makes vows that threaten the marriage. In this situation, however, there is another possibility. According to the Torah (see Bamidbar 30), upon hearing the vow the husband has the option of hafarah – of voiding it. He may choose, however, to allow the vow to stand. In such a case, it is much less clear as to who is responsible for the failure of the marriage – the wife who made the vow, or her husband who heard it and remained silent (or stated his approval). In fact, according to Shmuel we find a disagreement among the tanna’im on this matter.
What type of vows can be voided by the husband?
It is clear to the Sages that he can only be mefer vows that affect his wife in a significant way. Specifically, vows that she makes that involve inuy nefesh – a level of suffering on her part – can be voided. Interestingly, although the passages in the Torah appear to refer to vows that will affect the marital relationship as being the ones that can be voided (see Bamidbar 30:17), our Gemara seems unsure as to whether those types of vows are the ones that a husband can be mefer.
The final ruling is that vows that will affect the relationship between husband and wife – and, in particular, vows that affect their marital relations – can be voided by the husband. There is a difference, however, between vows of inuy nefesh and those that affect the marital relationship. In the former, after the husband is mefer, the vow that she made is null and void, and will remain so even after their marriage has ended (if they divorce or if the husband dies). In the second case, however, the vow does not take effect as long as the couple is married. Once their marriage ends, the vow comes into force.
The Mishnah on our daf lists situations where a woman can be divorced without receiving her ketubah. These include a woman who transgresses “the law of Moses” or “Jewish practice.”
According to the Mishnah, transgressing the “law of Moses” includes:
- Feeding her husband untithed food,
- Engaging in relations while she is a niddah (during the period of her menstruation)
- Not setting apart her dough offering,
- Making vows and not fulfilling them.
Going against “Jewish practice” includes:
- Going out with an uncovered head,
- Spinning wool in the street,
- Conversing with every man.
Other opinions in the Mishnah include situations like that of a wife who curses her husband’s parents in his presence or one who screams to the extent that her neighbors can hear her outside the house.
Clearly, these are just broad categories of inappropriate behavior. The Rambam rules, for example, that any non-kosher food would be grounds for divorce without ketubah.
It is interesting to note, that even though the entire Torah should be considered “the law of Moses,” nevertheless, according to the Mishnah the fact that a woman commits sins is not in itself grounds for a man to divorce her wife without paying the ketubah. It is only if the wife’s disregard for Jewish law directly affects their marriage that he will be allowed to do so. This is because the ruling that allows the husband to divorce his wife without paying ketubah is not a punishment for her behavior, rather it is the natural consequence of her actions that make it impossible for the couple to remain married to one another. This can be illustrated by the ruling presented by Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman in his kovetz shiurim. Rabbi Wasserman argues that if the husband regularly eats non-kosher on his own, then the Jewish court will deny his request to divorce his wife without paying ketubah, since the fact that she serves him non-kosher food does not affect their marriage.
Today, conditional marriages are discouraged, if not entirely disallowed. The Mishnah (72b), however, discusses cases where a person made the marriage conditional on the fact that his wife does not have vows that she has taken on herself or physical deformities. In such cases, if the woman is found to have such vows or physical deformities there is no need for a divorce, since the condition upon which the marriage was based was not fulfilled.
What if the husband made such a condition at the time of the kiddushin (betrothal), but then completed the marriage (nisu’in – which during Talmudic times was often a year later) without stipulating that the condition be fulfilled? In such a case we find a disagreement between amoraim. Rav requires that a divorce be given; Shmuel says that there is no need for a divorce, since the condition upon which the marriage was based was not fulfilled.
According to Rabbah, both Rav and Shmuel agree that in a normal case where a condition is stipulated at the time of the kiddushin, the condition will remain binding even if the nisu’in was completed without a restatement of the condition. Their disagreement is only in an out-of-the-ordinary case – a situation of two wives.
What is the case of “two wives”? According to Rashi, the case is where a man married one woman and stipulated that it was conditional and then married a second woman without making that same condition. Must we assume that his first statement should be understood to refer to all of his marriages or not?
The rishonim take issue with Rashi’s approach and offer other explanations for this case. The Ri”f suggests that we are talking about a case where the man has kiddushin with one woman that included the condition, and with a second woman without any condition. When he completes the marriage (nisuin) with the first woman, can we view the unconditional kiddushin with the second woman as an indication that he no longer cares about this issue? The Geonim take an entirely different approach. According to Rav Natronai Gaon the case of “two wives” is when a man offers conditional kiddushin to a woman, but then finds that he has married another, with whom he had made no conditions.
The Mishnah (72b) offered two cases where a husband stipulates a condition before marriage. In one, he makes the marriage conditional on the fact that his wife has not taken vows upon herself; in the other his condition is that she does not have physical deformities.
The baraita brought by the Gemara on our daf discusses a woman who accepted these conditions, and following the kiddushin goes to the Sage to have her vows rescinded or to a doctor to have her deformity healed. In such cases, the condition will be considered to have been fulfilled when the vows were removed by the Sage, but not when the deformity was healed by the doctor. In explaining the difference between vows and deformities, the Gemara explains that the Sage voids the vow retroactively, and we discover that at the moment of marriage the wife really was unburdened by vows. In the case of the doctor, however, the deformity was only healed from the time that the medical procedure was performed, so at the moment that the kiddushin was to take effect, the condition was not fulfilled.
The Re’ah raises a question based on the understanding that a Sage voids a woman’s vows retroactively. If this is the case, how can we ever be certain that the condition upon which the marriage was based was not fulfilled? Is it not possible that the woman – working with the assumption that her vows keep the marriage from being valid – will go and marry another man? In such a case, should she later approach a Sage and have her vows voided she will discover that her marriage to her first suitor was valid, and that she has been living in sin all these years, and that her children from the second man will be mamzeirim!!?
Although this issue is not raised in our Gemara, the Talmud Yerushalmi discusses it and suggests that the fact that the woman did not choose to arrange for her vows to be voided at the earlier opportunity shows conclusively that she was not interested in that marriage, effectively ending it. Nevertheless, another opinion in the Yerushalmi suggests that this is a concern. Due to this question, the Re’ah and his students conclude that a woman in a case like this one will be required to accept a divorce, so that she will be protected from any future concerns.
The passage in Tehillim (87:5) that is brought by our Gemara states:
“But of Zion it shall be said: ‘This man and that was born in her;
and the Most High Himself doth establish her’.”
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi‘s grandson, Rabbi Meyasha, explains this to mean that not only someone who was born in Jerusalem, but even those who look forward to seeing it, are considered to be bnei Zion – children of Jerusalem. The Maharsha explains that this is the uniqueness of the city of Jerusalem. Whereas in other cities only natives – people who are born and raised there – are considered to be of that city, any Jew who looks towards Jerusalem with the desire to be there is considered a ben Zion. At the same time, argues the Shittah Mekubetzet, as becomes clear from the continuation of the Gemara, there are clear advantages to actually living in Israel and Jerusalem.
Based on this, Abayye says that one scholar from Israel is as good as two Babylonian scholars. Rava counters by saying that when a Babylonian travels to Israel and studies there, he can become the equal of two Israeli scholars. The example of this is Rabbi Yirmiyah, who could not follow the discussions in the study hall while he was in Babylon, but upon moving to Israel referred to his peers who remained behind in Babylon as “foolish Babylonians.”
Rabbi Yirmiyah moved from Babylon as a young man and studied under the tutelage of the greatest Rabbis in Israel – Rabbi Yochanan‘s students Rabbi Zeira and Rabbi Abahu. Rabbi Yirmiyah had a particularly sharp approach to things, and his questions were so pointed that at one point he was expelled from the study hall for a time. It was in this spirit that he referred to his friends in Babylon as “foolish Babylonians,” a statement that appears to have been accepted by them gracefully. Rabbi Yirmiyah became one of the greatest Rabbinic figures of his generation, and we find his teachings throughout both the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, to the extent that in Babylon his statements are referred to simply as amrei be-ma’arava – they say in the west (i.e. they teach in Israel).
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.